This year saw the release of many great albums, so we asked TCS readers to share their favourites:
Elbow – Build A Rocket, Boys!
The tunes on this record, such as The Birds, Neat Little Rows and Open Arms, have a wonderfully warm sing-along vibe to them, which, along with Guy Garvey’s witty banter, made the performance of this album one of my highlights of Reading festival this year. It’s easy-listening at its finest, with Garvey’s lyrics dealing at times with loneliness and the sad state of modern society but also with the power for things to change, and the sentiment of caring for others. No radical new direction, just another album full of glorious melodies and musical craftsmanship from an understated, but assured, band.
The Strokes – Angles
The Strokes’ debut was probably the best that decade, maybe the most unexpected. They single-handedly reinvented a genre, but after the letdown that was First Impressions of the Earth, something about the band seemed to have frayed. It took five years and a ‘much needed break’ for Angles, their next album, to materialize. Under Cover of Darkness is classic, beloved Strokes, but Casablancas seems to have relinquished creative control, and Angles is unexpectedly experimental, their most varied album yet. 70s pop influences rear their heads, like Thin Lizzy in Gratisfaction. Thank god for their infectious energy — thank god they’re back. Angles isn’t Is This It, but it’s pretty damn good.
Pink Martini – A Retrospective
Elegant and sensuous as always, Pink Martini’s new album A Retrospective again shows the ‘little orchestra’s’ truly cosmopolitan nature with songs ranging from the Mediterranean to 1950’s Hollywood. The album consists of a compilation of their best loved songs – including the slightly slower-paced and serene first recording of Una Notte a Napoli, as well as a daring remix of it– and several new releases. Wonderful though Christmas in Cambridge is, Pink Martini’s A Retrospective immediately makes one long for lengthy, lazy summer nights and warmer climes: an album perfect for avid admirers and newcomers alike.
Girls – Father, Son and Holy Ghost
An ode to the Californian boardwalks that never were but were always meant to be, Girls’ sophomore effort fuses contemporary indie with the M.O.R. that dominated the FM dial of the ‘60s. Throughout the record, Owens breathes new life into classic pop tropes; from the breezy surf-rock of opener Honey Bunny to the star-crossed album closer Jamie Marie. The album peaks during the crushing crescendo of the 7 minute epic Vomit, dripping in excess, gospel choirs and organ wails. Life affirming.
Metronomy – English Riviera
Nominated for the Mercury Prize, but don’t let that put you off: in The English Riviera Metronomy’s craft and friendliness shines through in one achingly hip yet fantastic package. It has the rhythmic funk workouts We Broke Free and Everything Goes My Way; it has the chilled post-punk coolness of The Look; and it has the nervy electronic brilliance of the massive The Bay, as Metronomy revel in the deliciousness of the names “Berlin”, “Tokyo”, “Hong Kong”. As calm and languid yet effortlessly attractive as the beach on its cover.
Wild Beasts – Smother
With brooding tales of love and regret, sex and violence, old men and young, Smother is a magnificent work of art. At times the atmosphere is shivering, unnerving (Invisible), at others sensual and teasing (Plaything). These songs have a certain majesty about them, an elusive beauty and undeniable presence. And yet, they are not a cult band, not exclusive: they build and maintain a relationship with pop-influenced sounds, allowing the record to open out to the listener, to share their intimacy. The interplay between synthesiser, gloomy bass, piano, and above all between moaning, groaning, and falsetto voices makes these lust-infused narratives so engaging.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Make A Scene
The much-delayed fourth album from electro pop icon Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Make a Scene, must rank as one of the most underrated musical offerings of 2011. Fans of her commercially-successful work of the early 2000s will recognise the vintage Ellis-Bextor on display here, refined by the fruits of over a decade of experience. Her trademark dreamy, deliberate vocals are combined with slick electronic production to result in a pop masterpiece as suitable for individual listening as the dance floor. Highlights include singles Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer), Bittersweet, and Starlight, and the ethereal album cut Magic.
The Antlers – Burst Apart
After 2009’s extraordinary Hospice, a concept album about an emotionally abusive relationship in a cancer ward, how could The Antlers recreate such brilliance? Burst Apart isn’t as immediately gut-wrenching, but it’s certainly not a happy record. Atmospheric opener I Don’t Want Love sets the mood, and track titles like Putting The Dog To Sleep indicate a spectrum of unhappiness covered here. Lushly instrumented, multi-layered misery abounds, but there’s a bit of cautious optimism to be found- check out the gorgeous slow-burner Rolled Together. It’s not Hospice, but it shouldn’t have to be. A real grower.